Bird-Headed Beings

Through history, mankind has worshipped various bird-headed beings. Often, these creatures depicted deities or visitors from a higher plane, much as a white dove is often linked to the Christian God. Other common birds include hawks, eagles, and ibis. In this article, we will discuss some of the more-common bird-headed beings from around the world.

Horus

Horus is often shown as a falcon-headed man wearing the double-crown. Courtesy Wikipedia.

To ancient Egyptians, Horus was represented as a falcon-headed man, though he cruised the sky as a falcon. He was linked to the sky and to kingship. As a major god in the Egyptian pantheon, he was worshipped through Egypt’s long history. Horus was the sky, son of Hathor and Nut, the sky god. His name meant “distant” or “high” in honor of his airborne nature.

As the sky god, his right eye was the sun, while his left was the moon. According to myth, Horus, as guardian of Lower Egypt, fought bitterly with Set, guardian of Upper Egypt. Both sought control over Egypt, but neither side gained an edge until the gods backed Horus. While Horus ultimately won the war, he did not emerge unscathed – his left eye had been gouged out. This explained why the moon had a weaker light than the sun. During the new moon, Horus became blind – at these times, he was unpredictable and dangerous, attacking friends and enemies alike.

Thoth

Thoth, in one of his forms as an ibis-headed man. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Thoth was an ibis-headed god who acted as Ra’s heart and voice. He caused Ra’s desires to be passed to the people. He was also associated with writing, science, magic, arbitration, and judging the dead.

His main shrine was located at Khemennu, which was renamed Hermopolis by later Greeks. The Greeks renamed Thoth, adopting him as their winged god Hermes.

Griffin

An unusually naturalistic depiction of a griffin by Sir John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

The griffin is a noble creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. the eagle was the king of birds, while the lion was the king of beasts. This combination made the griffin a symbol of the divine power of kings. They also act as guardians of the divine.

Quetzelcoatl

Quetzalcoatl depicted as a snake devouring a man, from the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Courtesy Wikipedia.

This Aztec god of creation and the sky is also called the Feathered Serpent. He combined the brilliant feathers of the quetzal bird with the coatl, the serpent. Similar deities were worshipped by the Maya, Toltec, and Mixtec peoples of Mesoamerica.

Aztec rulers would commonly take the names of gods, emphasizing the divine nature of these kings. For this reason, legends can be confusing. The actions of the ruler Quetzelcoatl are mixed with legend, becoming indistinguishable from the actions of the god Quetzelcoatl.

Garuda

Garuda, the Vahana of Lord Vishnu, courtesy Wikipedia.

The Garuda appears in Buddhist and Hindu folklore. The Garuda has the body of a man, with a golden body and white face. He has the wings and beak of an eagle. This large bird, occasionally shown as a bird-like creature, is Vishnu’s mount. Garuda has also been ridden into battle by Krishna.

The ancient Vedas contain the earliest reference, describing how the bird brought nectar from heaven to earth. It is said that Garuda’s wings chant the Vedas as he flies, a testament to his holiness.